United continued their pursuit of a possible treble with the visit of Marseille in the return leg of their last 16 champions league match. After a drab 0-0 on the French riveira, goals were on the menu as United looked to secure their 5th straight quarter final appearance in front of focifourous Old Trafford crowd. United made several changes to the side who took on Arsenal at the weekend, with stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes returning to a more familiar looking midfield. Portugese winger Nani also made a speedier than expected recovery from his injury sustained at Liverpool, a major boost for United in a game where winning was imperitive. Marseille themselves welcomed back star striker Andre Pierre Gignac after missing the first leg through injury, and the French striker was looking to exploit a potentially vulnerable United back four without Nemanja Vidic.
With only victory enough to take United through, an early goal was crucial to settle the nerves, and 5 minutes in Javier Hernandez delivered in typical style, tapping in Giggs’s cross after some superb build up from the Welshman and Wayne Rooney down the left hand side. After what seemed like a perfect start, United appeared relatively tentative in the remainder of the first half, unsure as to whether to attack and finish off the game, or to protect a tie winning lead and prevent a costly away goal. Marseille sensed this and responded well, creating some clear cut opportunities, of which Gignac and Diawara squandered. A bright light in what was a tense first half for the reds was the performance of Wayne Rooney, who again was relishing being used in an attacking midfield role, as he dictated the play and was a constant menance to the Marseille defence.
Although United held the lead at half time, 1-0 was a precarious scoreline with a solitary Marseille goal enough to send the reds crashing out. The introduction of Rafael for John O Shea appeared to help United shift the momentum back towards the Marseille goal, with United enjoying a good period after the break, although without any real clear cut opportunities to show for it. It took until the 75 minute for the tension building in the ground to be aleviated, again by Hernandez who followed his first with a mirror image second as Giggs crossed for the young Mexican who tapped home from 6 yards out.
With the quarter finals becconing, United typically made things difficult for themselves, as Marseille were gifted a lifeline back into the tie courtsey of a Wes Brown own goal with 8 minutes left on the clock. However despite one or two tense moments, United closed out a deserved win, and a safe passage into the latter stages of the competition with a tie against Europe’s elite to look forward to in the coming weeks. With United still competing on all three fronts, it’s almost impossible to not mention the word ‘treble’, given United’s history and stature within the game. Yet when you look through this current side, and compare it to the heroes of ’99, the difference in quality is alamring, and you fear that we are vulnerable to falling at the final hurdle. One thing for sure, is that whatever happens, Ferguson will send out a team with the belief and attitude that victory in every game is a possibility, and for this reason alone there is always hope that this season could be a classic one.